Today marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Today people will gather at Pearl to remember the attack that resolutely launched a reluctant America into WWII.
Was it a surprise? Depends on what you mean by “surprise”.
To the American public, many of whom were anti-war, it was a shock in nearly every way. The Japanese were not our enemy; they were rice farmers; they were not capable of this–what the hell happened?! How could they penetrate as far as Hawaii with no one noticing?
To the military and government who had been watching both sides of the world conflict, the who wasn’t a surprise. The “when” wasn’t even that much of a surprise, thanks to the code-breaking capabilities. Everyone in Roosevelt’s cabinet figured that, unless a miracle happened, Japan and the USA would be at war by Christmas, if not sooner.
But Pearl Harbor, I believe, was still a shock in the “where” and the “how” categories.
Lives and ships were lost. America was nearly defenseless to protect itself across the immense expanse of the Pacific. We had a military the size of Sweden’s, and had been practicing using flour bags for bombs and grenades and wooden rifles for practice due to budget cuts. For all anyone knew, Japan was ready to move into Hawaii or even the West Coast. With a large enough army, they could have done so.
As the hours wore on, the news poured in. We concentrate so hard on Pearl Harbor (at least here in the United States) we sometimes forget that Manila was hit hours later. Singapore, the seat of the British Navy in the Far East, was attacked, Wake Island, Thailand, Malaysia, the Japanese Empire blossomed, battle by battle. By Christmas, the Japanese would be within striking distance of Australia.
It was a new, terrifying world.
Which thankfully came to an end.
Today, the wounds are still closing. The identities of unknown victims of Pearl Harbor are slowly being identified through DNA advances. Today the Japanese Prime Minister will attend the memorial ceremony to honor the dead. Today, we will try to stop and strike that delicate balance of remembering the past and honoring those who gave their lives, while nurturing the present reconciliation with Japan.
There are still injustices left from Pearl Harbor.
People on both sides who never met fathers, brothers, and uncles.
People who were locked up in detention camps for being able to trace their ancestry back to Japan.
Two families, Kimmel and Short, who still campaign to clear their ancestor’s name as the scapegoats for Pearl Harbor.
Families who still wait, hoping one day a skeleton marked ‘unknown’ in the Punchbowl will come back with a DNA match, so the name can be restored.
Today, when we pause to remember, let’s try to understand what happened and why, if only to make sure, as often as possible, that it cannot happen again.